When watching movies, whether for fun or fun and blogging, you're likely to come across a very particular sort of film. It may be a new film, an old film you never heard of, or even one you eyed many a time at the video store but always passed over. Regardless of how you finally came to see it, you will begin to wonder why it took you so long.
I refer to the fascinating case of, "This film isn't actually good, but by God it was made for me."
Naturally, today's film is one such example. I saw it on the video shelves as Endless Descent but when the wonderful human beings at Kino Lorber saw fit to give it a Blu-ray release, they released it under its alternate title: The Rift. However, they were also kind enough to fit it with a reversible cover so I could display it on my shelf under the title I knew it so well as.
Now, based on the film's release year and both of its titles--plus the scuba diver being devoured by tendrils on its poster--you may have already surmised that this film was part of an inexplicable trend in the late 1980s and very beginning of the 1990s. That being the creature feature set beneath the ocean, following in the footsteps of The Abyss, Leviathan, or Deep Star Six. Why this was a trend at that particular time in our history is rather beyond me, but I can't deny it is a fascinating one all the same.
If nothing else, it was a new and innovative setting in which to place incredibly boiler plate plots.
This film is no exception to that part. We open by being introduced to submarine designer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia) being summoned to Washington, D.C. It seems that Wick designed two submarines for a corporation with a government contract, but then resigned in a fury when he realized they altered his final designs before the subs were complete. Well, now he's being called back because the first of the subs, Siren I has gone missing in the North Atlantic. They need his help recovering the black box, or else they will blame him for the sub's sinking.
Of course, they also guilt trip him by pointing out a friend of his was the skipper of the doomed sub in case threat of ruining his professional reputation wasn't bad enough.
Though the film intercuts this conversation with showing us the fate of Siren I, so we already know that there was an incident where a guy who's a dead ringer for Louis C.K. got chased through the halls of the sub by an unseen assailant and then Siren I imploded. But apparently only we are privy to this knowledge.
So Wick is sent to where the Siren II is docked, in Norway. Maybe someone should tell them it's bad luck to number your named submarines? Though I will pause to note that the shot of it moored at the dock is a pretty sweet optical effect. I'm guessing a matte painting.
|Also, we're briefly told the sub has "radar cloaking" but isn't painting it bright yellow counterproductive?|
Well, things shape up a bit when Captain Phillips (R. Lee Ermey!) of the US Navy arrives to take command of the Siren II for the mission. (Yes, he is the captain now.) He also brought along Lt. Nina Crowley (Deborah Aidar), because the mission to recover a lost submarine oddly requires a genetic biologist who has an awkward past with Wick. No, I don't care what the awkward past is and frankly the movie doesn't care all that much either--it's just shorthand for "you should care about these two surviving."
|Seriously, all this movie needed was James Cromwell and it'd have "Hey, It's That Guy" Bingo.|
Quickly the sub finds the signal of its sister ship coming from deep in an ocean trench. Bizarrely, however, the signal is coming from what appears to be a forest of kelp at a depth no sunlight can penetrate. Phillips orders one of their divers out in what appears to be a slightly altered wet suit (!) to get a sample of the strange seaweed and take photos of any wreckage. Well, the diver succeeds in the first task quite well. However, after a false scare with a corpse of one of the Siren I's crew (which, oddly, is quickly forgotten about), his attempt to photograph a damaged piece of the lost sub's hull results in the seaweed wrapping itself around him and crushing him to death.
Phillips declines to send the diver's distraught friend after him, since nothing can be done at this point. More alarming, Nina determines that the seaweed is some kind of algae and it has quickly grown in her specimen tank and infected all the fish in the tank. It seems to be feeding off of the fish, in fact.
The crew has no time to digest that fact, however, because they suddenly find themselves attacked by what seems to be an enormous sea slug of some kind. The creature is big enough to wrap itself around the sub and strong enough to quickly drag them down to the edge of the ship's crush depth. Only quick thinking by Wick allows them to electrify the hull and drive it off, and then he helps Robbins to wedge the sinking sub into crevice so they can avoid crush depth and be stationary for repairs.
|"Hey, sorry, the giant squid was busy this week so I'll be your giant killer mollusk for the evening!"|
Robbins helps guide the team from the bridge while Phillips and Nina anxiously watch their progress. As you might imagine, things very quickly go pear-shaped.
First, they find body parts strewn throughout the cavern's tunnels. A fork in the tunnel forces the team to split in two, with Wick leading one team and Ana the other. Wick's team finds the source of the SOS at a computer manned by a skeleton in a lab coat, though helpfully the skeleton left a stack of disks that might have answers. Unfortunately for Ana's team, they discover one of the questions is, "Why is this tunnel riddled with holes that are actually the habitat of vagina bugs that have a poisonous bite?"
|I don't even know what psycho-sexual issue leads to a bug monster with a vulva mouth and testicle eyes but here we are.|
We sadly don't get too clear a look at the fish lizard, I'm guessing because it was a guy in a suit with severely limited mobility, but what we see is awesome. It's also rather hilarious, since it bites off the guy's leg and then runs off with it like a little scamp, so Ana is forced to watch him bleed to death.
|Somebody pleeeeeaaaaase make an action figure of this monster!|
Ana vanishes, so Wick has to head back to the sub with just Skeets and the other expendable dude. Unfortunately for our third fellow, the cavern's water is filled with what appear to be shrieking eels and when he falls out of the raft, they devour him.
|"Grandpa isn't here to pause the story this time, Buttercup!"|
Well they can't stay long, but Phillips refuses to leave without Ana so he goes ashore with Wick, Skeets, and Nina to find her--leaving Robbins behind to man the sub. Well, poor Ana fights her way into a strange chamber, warding off vagina bugs and lizard monster claws the whole way, as the others find their way to her. Sadly for her, she strays too close to a bizarre machine and finds herself dragged inside by furry tentacles.
When the others find their way into the chamber where she was, observing the huge pile of disturbingly viable gill-man eggs but overlooking the kaiju sea anemone on the wall, Ana has found herself inside the DNA accelerator and is begging for death. The sea anemone begins roaring at this point and Skeets makes the mistake of shooting and taunting it--unaware that the toothy mouth in the center of its tentacles is ambulatory. Exit Skeets, fulfilling his contractual duty as the expendable token minority character.
|This was a really strange direction for Pixar to take the Finding Nemo franchise.|
However, Wick is able to use his knowledge of the sub to fool Robbins into putting himself in a vulnerable position and after a quick tussle with Phillips, Robbins finds his face being shoved into some algae goop. Unfortunately, the algae also infected Phillips so he stays aboard while Wick and Nina take the escape pod to safety and the Siren II goes "boom" to seal the rift. The End.
|Good night, sweet prince. *sniffle*|
The fact that this film was shot on a much lower budget than most of the films whose coattails it is desperately trying to ride is also always clear. The model effects for the subs are so woeful that in several scenes they opted to simply film them out of focus.
And yet, I find this film utterly charming. This is definitely a film that knew that the important part of it was always going to be the monsters and damned if it didn't make a genuine effort there. I suppose that's not all that shocking, given director Juan Piquer Simon is responsible for films like Mystery on Monster Island, The Fabulous Journey to The Center of The Earth, and Slugs. (He's also responsible for Pieces, the notorious Cthulhu Mansion, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite Pod People, but that's another conversation) The man may not necessarily know how to deliver convincing monsters, but by God he knows how to deliver fun ones.
And at the end of the day, that's exactly what this film is: fun. Is it good? God, no. I'm not even sure you could call it "good-bad" or "so bad it's good," because it isn't actually bad, either. However, it is an absolutely delightful flick with a menagerie of monsters and, at the end of the day, that's what counts in my book.
If you love monsters, you probably won't consider this some "lost classic" but I guarantee you won't regret wasting about 80 minutes on it. And considering some of the other schlock I'm looking at this year, that's practically a glowing recommendation.
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I have a very partial, tentative and speculative suggestion for what lay behind the spate of undersea adventure/monster films (how's that for confident?). Shortly before the home video revolution, we were all blessed with the release of Alien. This of course begat a swarm of greater and lesser ripoffs, and one of them was a made-for-TV item called The Intruder Within. Unlike most of the others of its kind, this one was NOT set in outer space, but on an oil-drilling platform; not only did this save on exterior visual effects, it cut the costume budget by making possible the use of off-the-K-Mart-shelf clothes.ReplyDelete
And, surprisingly, it was actually sort of good; acceptable performances, and a rather nice if clearly Geiger-inspired creature. It's initial airing in 1981 was close enough to that home video revolution that it was handy for packaging as a rental when the revolution came. And there it was-- a watery, if not strictly underwater, monster film which probably had a reasonable return for investment. As I said, this is highly speculative, but I seriously suspect Deepstar Six and Leviathan had a little ghost of The Intruder Within wafting about the early production meetings.